July 7th, 2007
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Categories: Common Questions

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror, I spent seventeen months in the prison lines of Leningrad. Once, someone recognized me. Then a woman with bluish lips standing behind me, who, of course, had never heard me called by name before, woke up from the stupor to which everyone had succumbed and whispered in my ear (everyone spoke in whispers there):

“Can you describe this?’”

And I answered: “Yes, I can.

Then something that looked like a smile passed over what had once been her face.”

Anna Akhmatova in the preface to her poem, Requiem

Akhmatova’s preface expresses the survivor’s sense of duty to tell the world, accurately and with precision, what it feels like to undergo something terrible. And the loss of a child is always terrible, though good may come out of the loss in the end.


Describing what it feels like to be a birthmother is very, very difficult, even for the most articulate of writers. I’ve seen the essence caught in fleeting comments, in certain posts, and in passages of books, but ultimately I think we haven’t yet seen the definitive work on birthmotherhood, especially in the open adoption world. I have faith that people like Jenna or Paragraphein are going to write that book someday, and then maybe people will understand once and for all why birthmoms are calling for reform. And the rest of us will smile in recognition and support.

I am a writer and reader, so I immediately turn to books to help me understand the world. During my pregnancy, I naturally read a few books to try to determine how I was going to feel when I lost my son. (There were fewer books out then, and no blogs, which have become such important resources.) Looking back those books, I see that what the writers said was true, but somehow their words didn’t click with me. Part of it was denial – I thought I would somehow be different, that I wouldn’t feel what my predecessors felt. In other cases, I think the books I chose just weren’t vivid enough in their descriptions. There are more and better books out there now.

But another part of it is that different people need to hear things in different ways. The “ah-ha” moment for you is not going to be the same for me. And this is why birthparents keep talking, often repeating themselves, in the hope that we will do a better job of expressing our reality to women and men who are making their decision now.

It is so incredibly hard to imagine what it is going to feel like to surrender your child. The phrase I hear over and over again from new birthmothers is “I had no idea.” I hope we can get to a day when no woman has to say this any longer — first, because there are more books and resources out there, telling our story, and second, because women are encouraged to try parenting first before accepting the loss of their child.

4 Responses to “What surrender feels like”

  1. Jan Baker says:

    “The phrase I hear over and over again from new birthmothers is “I had no idea.” I hope we can get to a day when no woman has to say this any longer…”

    Me too, Heather. I keep trying to explain what it feels like hoping that if people knew it would matter.

  2. terri says:

    First, poignant imagery regarding the importance of speaking about any misunderstood experience.

    Second, to this day, there is not one book in my county’s library system by a birthparent. Not one in the entire county. (So, I’ve decided to begin donating some.)

    Being visual, I hope to see (and make) more art regarding the experience. The photographic image of the woman standing under water, holding her baby up out of it, is perhaps the most profound statement I’ve seen regarding “how it feels”. I saw it long after surrender, and it spoke when my words could not.

  3. Heather Lowe says:

    Yep, if I ever write a book about my experiences, I will use the Akhmatova quote as my epigraph, Unfortunately, writing the book can be hard for birthparents to do, because speaking honestly can potentially lose us our contact with our children (at least while they’re still minors).

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